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Festival of Nations was a huge success!

Crowds+enjoy+the+day+in+Tower+Grove+Park+at+Festival+of+Nations.+Photo+by+Hannah+Esker.
Crowds enjoy the day in Tower Grove Park at Festival of Nations. Photo by Hannah Esker.

Crowds enjoy the day in Tower Grove Park at Festival of Nations. Photo by Hannah Esker.

Crowds enjoy the day in Tower Grove Park at Festival of Nations. Photo by Hannah Esker.

Hannah Esker, Co Editor In Chief

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I first learned of the Festival of Nations in World History class sophomore year. I went just to get some extra credit, but the experience changed my life. With dozens of food tents, souvenir markets, and cultural dance stages, I was able to experience so many different foods, people, and cultures without ever having to leave St. Louis.

The 2017 Festival of Nations was held Aug. 26-27 in Tower Grove Park. The International Institute of St. Louis, the organization that coordinates the event, is constantly adding to and improving the festival. There were eight new food tents this year: Bolivian, Colombian, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Soul, Ugandan, and Venezuelan, bring the total number of food booths to 44. The layout of the festival was organized with one street of food tents and one street of flea market type tents selling everything from jewelry to artwork. In between the two streets, three stages stood where singers and dancers from different countries performed. I wanted to try food from as many of the tents as possible so I grabbed my little sister and a friend from Kirkwood High School and headed down to Tower Grove Park.

As I walked under the inflatable archway, marking the start of the festival, I was overwhelmed by the size of the crowd. Every food tent had a long line, and the lawns were covered in people who were sitting and eating their cultural discoveries. We immediately heard a performer singing ballads in Igbo, one of the ten languages most commonly spoken in Africa, and his music helped create a festive atmosphere.

The first country tent I bought food from was Malaysia. I ordered a four dollar dish called roti and curry which is a tough, chewy, flavorful dough shaped like a tortilla served with chickpeas, carrots, and peas in a saucy, spicy curry. I was starving and immediately dug into my first purchase. The dish, especially the roti, was something I have never eaten before, and it made me extremely excited for the food to come.

From my research, I knew that the Laotian tent was a place I wanted food from. I bought a four dollar laotian sausage which closely resembled a bratwurst. Surprisingly, along with the sweet pork and pepper, there was rice within the sausage casing. The grilled smokiness of the pepper and sweetness of the pork made for an uniquely savory flavor. I also ordered a four dollar dish called grilled sticky rice with taro filling, and I quickly discovered that it was a Laotian dessert. Taro root is a root vegetable much like a sweet potato and was mixed with coconut and ground into a paste to fill the sticky rice. The dish was extremely sweet and reminded me of the Mexican drink Horchata which is made with coconut and rice. By far, this was my best purchase of the day.

My friend decided to buy spring rolls, costing four dollars, from the Vietnamese tent. Spring rolls look like egg rolls but the two taste nothing alike. Thin rice paper holds Chinese noodles, shrimp, cucumber, beef, basil, and mint in a tightly wrapped roll. It is also served with a soy base sauce. The first bite surprised me because the mint flavor was so strong; however, the herbs made the spring rolls light and refreshing. She also ordered a South American dish from the Colombian tent called an arepa which cost eight dollars. The dish looked like a yellow pancake; it was a patty of corn bread filled with shredded chicken, onions, and tomatoes and served with a tomato sauce. The outside was crunchy and so hot that it was still steaming as Emma devoured it.

My younger sister is not a person I associate with adventurous eating. Unlike me and my friend, she couldn’t find anything she wanted to eat (I had told her that she couldn’t buy food from the American tent because that defeated the point of going to a cultural food festival). But as we continued down the long row of food tents, she saw several people walking away from the Greek tent with delicious looking gyros. She promptly got into the line and walked away happy, chomping on her pita sandwich.

We ended the meal by purchasing desserts from the Romanian tent. Each cost around five dollars. My friend decided on a fruit tart which was a sponge cake covered in icing with a variety of fruits scattered on top. They also offered gigantic Romanian pastries that were soaked in a honey-sage syrup and very sticky. I purchased a frappé, a classic European summer drink. It is iced coffee with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup on top. These desserts were a sweet way to end a magnificent cultural meal.

Unfortunately, at that point we had to leave. We were stuffed and broke from all the food we bought that day. Our little group worked its way through the crowds to the car. As we walked, we passed a stage. Hundreds of people sat at picnic benches and on the ground around the stage watching a woman perform an Indian dance. We could only pause for a moment, but the memory of everyone transfixed by the beauty of her dance still makes me smile.

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Festival of Nations was a huge success!